Tag Archives: disagreement

Swords Into Plowshares

Isaiah 2:4-5 says there will come a time when mankind, “shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation neither shall they learn war anymore” (ESV).

This passage is so often taken by itself that we treat it as a solitary whole and tend to interpret it as such. We imagine it describes a transformed humanity who no longer have a taste for conflict and war—a perfect world populated by perfect people (try to say that five times fast). We long for a world where everyone just gets along without the slightest argument and without any anger. Because of these assumptions, this passage is most often ascribed to the Millennium or even to the post-judgment New Earth. Such speculation is not part of this post. Instead, I want to draw your attention to the surrounding text.

The passage gives us no reason to believe the era described will be without conflict. It is preceded by an explanation for why there will be no more war, “For out of Zion shall go the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. He shall judge between the nations, and shall decide disputes between peoples” (ESV).

This is not a description of people transformed into peaceful little lambs with no aggressions or anger issues. Instead it is a description of the reign of God. The people still have disputes, but God mediates between them and decides who is in the wrong. The law of God goes ‘out from Zion,’ but this is just another way of saying God rules. When a King rules from a city and we say his law goes out from that city, we are saying he rules from that city to the places where his law goes. The law going out from Zion and the Word going out from Jerusalem are simply two ways of saying the same thing. The text goes on to tell us that the God whose law goes out from Zion and whose Word goes out from Jerusalem settles the disputes of all peoples and judges between the nations. Rather than being a time without disputes, it is a time where all disputes are settled by the omniscient and just God. Because He is omniscient, the decision made is the right one. Because He is just, His decision is just for all parties involved. Because He is God, the decision has irresistible force behind it. Yes, it describes a time when everyone willingly submits to God, but this is far easier knowing God has power to compel if needed.

Since each party knows the decision will be right and just, and backed up by the force necessary to keep each party in check, there is no need to fight over issues. All that any aggrieved person or persons must do is take their grievance to God and let him decide. Since the decision will be binding there is no need to fight.

Now, I know it is assumed this will only be possible in a different world system, one where God, in the person of Christ, is personally present to make decisions and pronouncements. However, I want to point out that (1) We as Christians already have the law of Christ in our hearts; (2) Christ instructs and guides us through his Word and by the Holy Spirit present in our hearts; and (3) Christ already rules in our lives, whether there is to be a future millennium or not. A more important question than when this will happen is “Why does it not describe Christian peoples today?” Why such discord among the brethren? We have disputes and division between Christians. We have, throughout history, even seen religious wars between Christians. We still today see Christians persecuting other Christians. Why is this so, when the rule of Christ in our hearts should produce peace between us as his people? The issue is one of trust.

In the era described by Isaiah all peoples trust God, while his power gives them reason to trust their opponents. Suppose my neighbor and I have a disagreement. We go to court and the issue is settled. The court can settle is because we both trust and submit to the decisions of the court, and we both know the court has the police power to force both parties to follow through on what was decided. A problem comes when either party doesn’t trust the court’s wisdom or power. If one person questions the court’s wisdom to decide the issue that person is unlikely to accept the court’s decision. Another problem can come when the court either cannot or will not enforce its decision. If my neighbor is free to ignore the court’s decision then I have no reason to trust the court to settle the issue—my neighbor would be free to disobey, placing me at a disadvantage if I willingly submit to the court’s decision.

We have conflict between brethren because we are human. I have an interest in A. You have an interest in B. Our situation does not permit both—((AvB)^¬(A^B))—but some cooperation is necessary to have either. If you work to undermine my efforts for A, then I will be unlikely to have A. But if I get A you are unlikely to get B. I am sure A is best for both of us, while you believe B would be best for both of us (an irrefutable rule of humanity is the tendency to believe what benefits me will equally benefit everyone like me). Conflict escalates because we do not trust the other to have our interests in mind.

This situation would be alleviated if we had Christ present to decide for us. There would be no conflict, if we could walk up to Christ and say, “Lord, I want A; he wants B. Which is best?” Unfortunately, this is not possible right now. Yes, one of us could say, “I believe Christ wants us to do this.” However, why would the other agree? The other could easily respond with “No, I believe he wants this.” The problem with such pronouncements is they are always suspect. Ever notice how these claims seldom go against the personal needs or desires of the one making them.

So, how can we change this? How can today’s church be more like the perfect era described in Isaiah? I won’t try to answer how we can be exactly like it, because that assumes we are supposed to be. If this is a description of the millennium, then it will only happen then. The same goes if this is a description for the post-judgment era. I will however, try to give advice on how the church gets closer to the ideal.

The best place to start is trusting Christ to balance the scales. It may be in this life, it may be in the next, but in the end we trust Christ to take care of injustices. We instead concentrate on living according to the command of Christ and at peace with one another, rather than insisting on our own interests and justice in the here and now:

1 Corinthians 6:7b ESV, “Why not rather suffer wrong? Why not rather be defrauded?”

Another part of this is putting the interests of others above ourselves:

Philippians 2:3-4 ESV, “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.”

This tells us to count the interests of others (or at least the other person themselves) as of greater value than our own interests. Then trust Christ to balance the scales in the end and to look after our interests on our behalf.

There are objections:

  1. “But then I lose because no one is looking to my interests. If I don’t look after my own interests, no one will.” Then you don’t trust Christ to balance the scales.
  2. “But then he gets his way, but I don’t get mine.” Then you are not putting him above yourself.

It is these which cause so much strife among the brethren. Unless we put these aside, we will never be marked by peace.

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Disagree but Respect

In Romans 2:17-24, Paul accuses some of hypocrisy. He asks if those who denounce adultery and stealing are themselves guilty of adultery and stealing. He speaks of those who boast in the law while breaking the law. Most of this passage is quite clear, but one part can be confusing. In the latter half of verse 22, Paul asks: “You who abhor idols, do you rob temples?” It’s confusing because the two are not an apparent contradiction to us. In our minds, robbing temples would contradict our denunciation of stealing, but an expression of abhorrence of idolatry. However, Paul treats them in way showing he intends this to be contradictory: you abhor idols, in keeping with the law, but then act towards them in a way that violates the law. But the behavior towards them is not worship of idols. Paul’s meaning would have been evident had he said, “You who abhor idols, do you worship idols?” But he didn’t. He actually uses a negative treatment of idols (robbing temples) as the moral antithesis of a negative opinion of idols.

This passage, like many, is best understood by keeping it in context. Verse 24 says, “The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.” The word literally translated ‘rob temples’ is also used to describe any act of blasphemy or sacrilege. Paul is decrying those who abhor idols and then act in a way that turns away and offends those who worship the idols. When we act disrespectful to those holding another belief we do not inspire them to adopt our beliefs. Too often such blatant disrespect causes people to shut down and turn off. Few are convinced into the faith. Most are modeled into the faith. By this I mean that few will adopt our faith simply because it is explained to them. Most will come because the faith is explained while being modeled. Paul is saying that just as we should not steal if we are against stealing, we should not live out our opposition to other faiths by being disrespectful to those who practice those faiths. This ill treatment of them is itself equivalent to violation of the law. We must love the person trapped in idolatry. This includes respecting them enough to not blaspheme (or ridicule, or misrepresent) their beliefs. We must take their beliefs seriously, if for no other reason than to respect those holding those beliefs.

Now, I don’t want you to misunderstand what I mean by this. This is not to say we should see all beliefs as relative and therefore true. The idea that whatever you believe is true because it is true for you is laughable at best. Some beliefs are right and some are wrong—holding to a false belief strongly does not make it true. That is simple logic. The opposite is…well…illogical (said in my best Spock voice). Let me give you an example of two beliefs:

Christian: Jesus Christ is the only begotten Son of God (John 3:16).

Muslim: He (God) neither begets nor is born (Quran 112:3).

It is impossible for these two beliefs to be true because it would violate the Law of Noncontradiction (Av~A). This is because God begetting a Son contradicts the premise that God does not beget. They are mutually exclusive. This means either both are false or one is true and the other false. It is impossible for both to be true.

Respect for another’s faith does not mean accepting it as truth. Likewise, pointing out the facts and even errors of another’s faith is not disrespectful—unless you do it in a way which disrespects the person. This is dialogue and discussion. Actually the issue itself is not even about having respect for the other faith. The passage is warning about treating the other’s faith in a way that drives away the other person—that is, therefore, disrespectful of the other person. While we must stand against false beliefs and share the truth, we must always remember we are dealing with people and not just impersonal premises.

To paraphrase Paul’s question in Romans 2:22b, “Do you who abhor idols drive people away from God and closer to their idols by how you treat them?”

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Disagreement is Essential to Teaching

preacher-silouette
Photo Credit: Shutterstock.com/Snap2Art

Yesterday, I had a wonderful conversation with a nice couple who had some questions about our church, our beliefs and what I teach on various subjects. It was a pleasure to visit with them, to get to know them and to see how much we were in agreement. However, no matter how much we agreed, I warned them “Eventually, I am going to teach something that you will disagree with. It is inevitable and will happen. It is important how we handle that.”

Every church and every pastor faces such disagreements at one time or another. Of course, with many individual believers this problem never occurs because many Christians view church mostly from the aesthetic. The average Christian knows what they like and pick a church based on that. For some it’s a charismatic pastor, an exciting mixture of programs, or an energetic worship band.

Then there are Christians who find the teaching most important. These folks want to know what a church teaches, what a pastor believes. These are often the folks with the most to offer a church because they take the Word of God seriously enough to take time to study it. Conversations with such believers are usually the most constructive and, for me, the most enjoyable.

My thoughts this morning turned to my statement quoted above. It is true and inevitable that there will someday be disagreement between the one preaching/teaching the Word and the one hearing. This is actually a central tenet of teaching. If we both (teacher and student) agree on everything, then no actual teaching happens—at most you have reinforcement. Biblical teaching implies that the teacher holds a biblical view which he seeks to impart to another. This assumes disagreement—assuming the student lacks that view. The teacher must demonstrate why the listener should agree.

It’s less important in this setting that we start out agreeing on every point. It is most important that we start out agreeing to tolerate the difference and allow the person teaching to prove their point. Of course, it is then upon the teacher to do so. But the student should be able to look beyond the disagreement and fairly assess the teaching. If you hear your pastor say something you disagree with, and you shut down refusing to hear why he believes that, then you are not being a good disciple, but are being obstinate. If the pastor says, ‘This is what I believe and you must concur regardless of how weak my argument” then the pastor is a tyrant with more interest in indoctrination than teaching.

Does your pastor live a godly life? Does your pastor demonstrate the truth of the gospel and work hard to teach the Word honestly and correctly? Then give him the benefit of the doubt, listen to his teaching and then examine it in the light of the Word. The solution to differences is not division, but an examination of the Scriptures to find the truth.

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